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SpyGlass

WHEEL AND BINNACLE POSITIONS ON SMALL VESSELS

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Guidance and comment chaps please .

 

Several kits including my present build Phoenix  and Badger seem to show wheel and of course binnacle in what seems to me to be a "less than optimal" position.

 

Not on the quarter deck but down on the main deck between the guns and with virtually no forrad visibility and with questionable tiller rope leads.

Was this really actual practice ?

image.png.9976061e2ec1d644d83491cc14d3bf7d.pngimage.png.d25fee73c2615f2b72c7b495bf50ed71.png

I can understand on larger vessels such as Victory the steersman might merely obey orders but on a small sailing vessel of this size it would seem ludicrous that the helmsman couldnt see where he was going .

 

 

Edited by SpyGlass

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The helmsman does not need forward visibility.  He is primarily watching the sails to make sure they are drawing properly and not luffing or shivering.

 

Regards,

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I think that if you look that the Fair American has a similar arrangement. I think it is not really a huge problem in either case. When just sailing the helmsman would just follow a compass heading. In maneuvering he would be following orders from the officer who would be located where ever he needed to be to observe what was needed.

 

You also might consider that the quarterdeck was much more exposed to the elements and possible gunfire, while not really having all that much of a better view when you consider you are trying to look through sails and rigging much of the time. Also when it comes to actual battle or docking or whatever close order maneuvering would be required, the view needed would mostly be over the side rather than fore and aft.    

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Looks like Henry and I pretty much posted at the same time.

 

Another thing to consider is that in many larger ships the helm was completely covered by the quarter deck, being located completely out of sight of the weather decks all together. 

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I have sailed for 40 years  on vessels up to around this size - I would prefer the helmsman could see where he was going!

 What happens when you are coming alongside  !!

 But of course with larger crews in the old days it may have been different but I still find it hard to believe that it was common practice. I had a quick look through the NMM files - but most that I found were flush decked with no quarter deck and the wheel  further aft

After all  Phoenix and Badger are just slightly larger than vessels where a tiller would be  common practice.

 

Its the position on such small vessels that puzzles me - clearly larger vessels  did operate  "by  order"

 

Oh and of course I cant see how the tiller ropes would run.

Edited by SpyGlass

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In the case of the Badger, there was a small slightly raised quarterdeck and the wheel was located on the quarterdeck. A man at the wheel could look forward but the masts, lines, and in the Badger's case, the cook shack would obscure some of the view. He could however look over the bulwarks. The kits I've seen do not indicate a raised quarterdeck. I noticed this discrepancy when I was building the Badger using Howard Chapelle's plans at the Smithsonian.

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I was wondering whether I was seeing some feature of kit manufacture.  We are talking about small vessels 80 ft or so  - the models tend to make them look much larger.

 I shall have a deeper dig in the NMM plan library.   Comparitively few naval vessels of this size seemed to have had a quarter deck anyway it would be  a waste of " a couple of guns" worth of deck space.

 

MK say they based their Phoenix on plans  from F Chapman and others - Chapmans are worth a look just for all the plans in his many works and his treatise on ship building  Architectura Navalis Mercatoria, 1768

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by SpyGlass

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Can't speak to the practices used during the age of sail, especially merchant vessels, but current practice in the US Navy is that the helmsman only follows the orders of the conning officer.  The helmsman doesn't really need forward visibility; he/she is given a rudder order and/or a course to steer and that's it; his focus is on the compass card.  They may make minor adjustments to maintain course or heading in a given sea state, but they don't make ANY course changes or rudder shifts without a very explicit order from the conning officer.  The OOD, conning officer, and lookouts (and CIC crew on modern ships) are observing the "outside world," not the helmsman.

 

FWIW,

 

Keith

Edited by el cid

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 Good point Frankie  - one presumes that vessels around 1800 did not have the gear sets which allow the wheel to almost sit on top of the rudder post.  And with small vessels with tiny quarter decks that tiller distance may have been too great for a wheel to fit on it?  Virtually the similar vessels of the date that I could find in NMM  had tillers and only very few had quarter decks.

 

 

Edited by SpyGlass

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FWIW, I was on board the U.S. Brig Niagara a few years ago when on holiday in Canada. No wheel,the tiller on her was operated by relieving tackles and I don't recall seeing a binnacle either. Of course that could have been stowed away below because of expected visitors. I was surprised just how large a ship she is.

 

Dave :dancetl6:

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There is evidence for placement of the wheel on the main deck. As pointed out above, Badger ‘s curved roof required that it be there and this is exactly the arrangement that Chapelle shows on his copy of the Admiralty fraught.  While in his annoying manner he does not explain what he has reconstructed and what the draughr originally shows he says that the draught was unusually well detailed.

 

The Admiralty draught of the 1709; hoy Lyon shows the wheel in the same main deck position, not on the raised quarter deck.  The original draught is reproduced in Conway’s The Heyday of Sail.

 

As illogical as it may seem the helmsman did not need to see where he was going!  This was the job of the watch standing officer whose job it was to “conn” the ship. Standing JOOD watches underway aboard a US Navy minesweeper in the 1960’s my job was to figure out course corrections necessary to maintain our place in formation and and to send the commands to the helmsman one deckbelow via voice tube. The helmansman had very limited visibility.  Coming along side of a pier- The Captain took the conn.  The helmsman didn’t freelance.

 

 A principal job of the helmsman aboard sailing vessels was to watch the luff of the sails and to make minor course corrections to keep them full.  The big picture (major course corrections) was the job of the watch standing officer.

 

Roger

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I think people are missing my point - these are SMALL sailing vessels the vast majority of such at the time still had flush decks, tillers and few officers.

Referring to a powered modern  vessel is not relevant. 

But I think Frankie has put his finger on it -

in summary

no gearing between wheel and stern post except a tiller and  possibly a pulley set.

tillers were long and when not flush decked they were below decks

So if  you at are going to have a quarter deck  on such a small vessel the tiller sweep would be nearly the same length so the wheel would be sensibly forrad.

And from practical experience, I still would prefer the guy at the wheel to see where he is going - if nothing else so he can see the seas coming at him in heavy weather and to ease the wheel as required.  You will guess that I have never been in the Navy !

 

 

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Hello Spyglass,

I see what you mean. Your first post got me thinking, so after browsing a gazzillion photos of old ship models and plans I have not found a single contemporary model or plan of a small ship with a wheel in the position you describe. There may be such ships, but if so they appear to be the exceptions and do not represent the typical practice of craft you describe. A tiller was cheaper to make, simpler to maintain (important on a small ship), and easier to repair at sea.

I will follow the evidence of my eyes. The lack of contemporary models/plans incorporating a wheel on small craft, while not an absolute answer, indicates the common practice.

My thanks for drawing attention to this, I am more confident now in choosing a tiller for my project, something I had already decided without doing the 'due diligence' of browsing the images of contemporary models. I would be grateful if anyone has anything specific that casts different light on the matter?

Regards,

Bruce

Edited by bruce d

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Re: the comparison of modern powered vessels to these vessels.  I would note that the sailing vessels pictured weren’t necessarily small for their period.  And functionally they were perhaps equivalent to a 20th century frigate, destroyer escort, or destroyer.  And Naval customs, including the duties and responsibilities of deck officers and ship’s crew is remarkably unchanged over the centuries, no matter the size of the vessel.  So while puzzling to private mariners that “drive” their own vessels and must see where they’re going, Naval vessels are fundamentally different and the helmsman is just a cog in the machine.

 

Cheers,

 

Keith

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Daveyboy,

 I recall when I spent an afternoon sailing onboard the brig Niagara on Lake Erie the Capt'n (or cox'n) was standing on a bridge structure behind the tiller and his visibility was still somewhat obstructed.  The First Mate was well forward about ten feet up the ratlines, giving orders to the crew and alerts back to the Capt'n.

Edited by AON

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Kieth,

 

Contrary to my post above and your confirmation, several years ago I was able to take part in a tour of the first of theNavy’s new  Litoral Combat Vessels that was touring Lake Superior after being built in Wisconsin.  The bridge included an aircraft type seat at the helm.  Our guide explained that the watch standing officer now sits in this seat and “drives” the ship like an aircraft pilot.  I’m sure that this is an exception unique to this class of vessels and that the traditional watchstanding relationships on larger Navy ships remain unchanged.

 

Roger

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8 hours ago, SpyGlass said:

when not flush decked they were below decks

Not always true.

Some of the very few things that are documented about The Providence of 1776 is that she had a fairly large raised quarterdeck AND a tiller, not a helm. I could be wrong but I think this was a little more common on merchant ships of the time, (The Providence was built as the Katy, a merchant ship) as they tended to operate with smaller crews and the captain would probably take the helm when the smaller crew was needed to man the sails or perform other chores. Also a tiller is a slightly less expensive option than a helm and many owners/builders were pretty cheap in some ways.  John Boit's sloop Union is another somewhat better documented example of this arrangement, and he sailed the Union around the world in the late 1700s.

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Hi Roger 

 

I think you can find other examples of the captain also being the helmsman in modern small boats. PT boats of almost all navies had this arrangement in WWII. Most small rivercraft in Vietnam were set up this way and many fast attack craft of today.   

Edited by lmagna

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While this horse has been thoroughly beaten, I wouldn’t consider the vessels pictured in the original post “small boats.”

 

Cheers,

 

Keith

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Probably not "small boats", but certainly "small ships". Most of the ships that have been mentioned, or shown, have been ships of 100 feet or less. Pretty small when you are in a storm on the open ocean!

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Thank you chaps

Imagna while trying to be concise - I missed out the word "usually" I  did not mean always!

 

Lou I agree - I think model kits always tend to try to make these small vessels look like the larger ones but they are indeed pretty smalll

 

I think we have flogged this ropes end to shreds now!   I have a rational explanation which satisfies me as to why the wheel could  be on the main deck.

 

Could I just add a little codicil - I was a volunteer skipper for the Ocean Youth Club way back when . For one  week the Sea  Cadets and OYC "swopped ships" and for a whole day I was  "master under supervison" of TS  Royalist  - look familiar ?

frm00223.jpg.14aec744db91b86f7131f638a98861cc.jpg

Oh and for  the avoidance of doubt - the steering wheel on Royalist was actually on a bridge well forrard - excellent visibility for the helmsman

 

Edited by SpyGlass

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